Published in The Malay Mail Online
As it is often with the government, the left hand rarely — if ever — knows what the right hand is doing.
How else do you explain that in the same week Prime Minister Najib Razak urged Malaysians to listen to the “voice of reason”, another government agency urged Muslims to do exactly the opposite?
In its Friday sermon last week — which came barely a day after the prime minister’s Chinese New Year address — the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) had brazenly singled out Christians and Jews as the so-called “enemies of Islam.”
I say “brazen” because the sermon-writer in Jakim finally found the guts either by purpose or by mistake, to finally name the usually unnamed “enemies.”
In the past few years, Jakim’s Friday sermons had commonly mentioned the Jews — always up to no good with their scheming ways — and the Christians (always, always identified using the name “Nasrani”).
“Nasrani” is the Arabic form of the word “Nazarene” which originally referred to a sect of Christianity, but has become the general term for Christians as a whole.
I guess when the Christians are too close to home — unlike the Jews — it will probably be too awkward to say bad things about them without using some sort of alias that is far from subtle.
Jakim had also regularly made reference to the “enemies of Islam”as bogeymen to scare Malaysian Muslims into submission, and leaving them unnamed had lent an air of mystery.
Not anymore. Now Jakim has its guns out in the open. The next time a sermon mentions “enemies of Islam”, we know who Jakim is referring to.
In the sermon last week, Christians and Jews were blamed for turning Muslims against each other, and tricking them into losing their rights.
This, in turn, plays into the same narrative played by Islamist groups of a global conspiracy involving networks of Christians, Jews, and even Freemasons (or Illuminati, depending on which group has extra time to spare).
Following rebuke from non-Muslim politicians over the accusatory nature of Friday sermons, minister in charge of religious affairs Jamil Khir Baharom explained that every sermon read in mosques have been vetted by Jakim.
Which is exactly the problem. Not only has Jakim endorsed such incendiary sermons, it also produces such sermons itself on a regular basis.
It is becoming much harder for Muslims nationwide to deny the obvious fear-mongering and religious hatred being peddled by the religious authorities.
It is even harder to ignore and bury, especially when sermons such as this are easily obtained with its texts available online weekly.
In addition, social media also ensures that the formerly secretive indoctrination happening during Friday prayers is now open for everyone to see.
Bigotry and hatred towards Christians and Jews, the two Abrahamic religions which came before Islam, is certainly not new.
In fact, some Islamic preachers would be quick to convince you that this showdown has been mentioned in the Quran.
In particular, a verse from the al-Baqarah chapter has been frequently quoted by some Muslims to justify their hatred towards the two faiths, since it “proves” the two faiths’ “wickedness”:
“And never will the Jews or the Christians approve of you until you follow their religion.” [2:120]
Regardless of the original context of the verse, it has continuously been (mis)appropriated to drive a never-ending war against Christians and Jews.
In Malaysia, the verse seems to have achieved new relevance, with the ongoing row over the use of the word “Allah.”
Especially since the narrative endorsed by Jakim is that Christians are trying to trick Muslims into giving away their exclusive right of the word, to confuse Muslims and eventually convert the latter into Christianity.
How did hating other religions become such a fundamental part of a religion?
When you consider that a dogmatic religion needs to convince its believers that it is the only One True Thing, then perhaps one way of doing that is by instilling hatred towards other religions.
And perhaps that is the same thing being attempted by Jakim. There seems to be a need to foster a siege mentality, create imaginary enemies and perpetuate conspiracies to keep Muslims in line.
In a way, it has succeeded. A significant number of Malaysian Muslims have turned out paranoid, bigoted and full of hatred. None of this matters, because these Muslims obediently toe Jakim’s line.
It is a pity not many of us know that this week is World Interfaith Harmony Week, partly because nobody in power really cares about interfaith harmony.
And even when they sort of care, like Jakim, they have a different idea of what interfaith harmony means.
Just wait and keep your ears open for today’s Friday sermon by Jakim, and hopefully you will get what I mean. Go on, I will still be here.